Proverbs – Week 33

By September 20, 2020Sermon Notes

Wise Decisions: The Wise see Criticism as a gift of love

How do you get better at anything…how do you grow in a skill?

“Well, Terry, you practice.”

True…but what happens if you get lots of practice without criticism?

“No one needs criticism”

Actually, we do…without it…we develop bad habits.

So, for instance, if you practice the piano for many hours…but don’t get criticism from a more experienced pianist what will you become?

A well-practiced bad pianist…develop bad habits.

“I hate criticism, I want a kind, helpful teacher…not a critic”

A kind, helpful teacher…by default is going to critique, criticize your playing.

“That was right, that was wrong.”

Teaching is criticism.

WE need to reframe what “criticism” is.

The Art or Music “critic” doesn’t just say what is bad or wrong about the arts…they are skilled (supposedly) in knowing what is good as well.

We very often…conflate (combine) criticism of our ideas, attitudes and actions with an attack on who we are as a person.

Instead of “That was the wrong note”

We hear “You are stupid”

Instead of “That idea is wrong, that attitude is unhealthy, that action is sinful”

We hear “You are worthless, pathetic, a loser.”

Criticism, critique…of ideas, attitudes, and actions…is necessary for us to grow and thrive…but often all critique is perceived as something “bad”…a personal attack.

Then when we feel attacked…we respond with “Fight, flight, or freeze”

I understand there are times when are being attacked by others…literally or in words.

But if we are to become wise…and most certainly if we are to learn to make wise decisions we cannot conflate criticism of our ideas, attitudes and actions…with personal attack.

They are not the same thing.

This reaction to criticism is common… but it’s unhelpful and something Proverbs tells us we are to grow out of if we are to become wise.

This year: Proverbs “Wise living”

This month: “Wise decisions”

Today: The importance of listening to others, of learning to thrive in critique in order to grow in wisdom.

Listen to Proverbs 9:7-9

“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” Proverbs 9:7-9

Wisdom’s teaching method is to critique our ideas, attitudes and actions

We don’t naturally love to be corrected…but we can grow in wisdom and in corresponding love for what it takes to become wise…like correction.

The further one goes into folly the more they will NOT put up with critique

The further one goes into wisdom the more they will WELCOME it and love you for offering it

Throughout Proverbs the ability to hear and respond in an honest way to criticism is crucial to positive personal growth

There is no growth in wisdom without acknowledgment of your need to grow and change.

If you don’t listen to criticism you will repeat the same mistakes over and over…you won’t grow.

Wisdom is being humble enough to know you are not perfect and so being willing to hear criticism.

In fact, the wise will love a person for correction because it might keep them from making the same mistake again.

And this is not just for the beginner because if you teach a wise man/woman, we read, he/she will become wiser still…we never stop growing.

The fool, on the other hand, will hate you for pointing out their imperfection, their flaws…so they in essence, never grow.

Folly in Proverbs is a scale…the simple is on one ened…and on the extreme end of the scale is the mocker.

He or she is not just simple and without wisdom, they have learned to delight in their folly and make fun of goodness and wisdom.

If you offer wise advice (advice is a form of correction or critique)…to a mocker you will likely get insulted.

If fact, in extreme cases, you might be physically attacked.

I watched a video of a man who came to the defense of a child who was being verbally.

attacked and physically threatened by two grown women…the result was that one of the women punched the man in the face.

She did not respond well to the man’s “correction” in regards to how inappropriate it was to attack a child…she became violent.

Fortunately, she was caught and arrested for her folly.

In Proverbs the fool is learning or has learned to hate wisdom…so they will not see correction as valuable

Jesus, in what is called the “Sermon on the Mount” said…

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:6

Dogs in this time were often not domestic pets…but wild, dangerous pack animals.

Jesus is not saying that some people are worthless animals and we are not to waste our time on them.

This is a statement about the perceived value of things based on the condition of a person’s heart or spiritual status.

Did you know that sharks, bears, snakes and alligators kill a combined 9 people per year in the US.

Cows kill 22 people per year.

Fear the cow not the shark.

Cows are not roaming the prairies looking for human victims…the high number is because people work around cows a lot.

A larger number of people are killed by dogs and pigs each year…unlike killer cows, who do not consume their victims.

Dogs and pigs sometimes will.

Now If you offered a dog or a pig something of real value to you…expensive jewels for instance, keys to a new car.

They may sniff them…but they will them ignore them…they hold no value for them…they can’t…they are animals…what is the pig to do with the “pearl”

An old, rotting piece of meat…now that is a real treasure…to a dog or a pig.

Jesus is commenting here on what is going on in the heart and mind of a person who is not alive to God…sacred things, valuable things…are worthless to them.

Our response to criticism, to advice, to counsel, tells us something about the status of our spiritual maturity.

Do we see it as a gift, as valuable…as a treasure?

In Proverbs…the wise are learning to do just that.

So the question for each of us…are we are path to wisdom…as revealed by our response to criticism?

I recently read about a Christian leader who lost his positions for several reasons but key among them was his refusal to listen to others.

He was gifted, effective in many ways…but he would not receive criticism of any kind from anyone…he would often verbally abuse anyone who offered even mild critique.

My first thought was “This man is not mature even though he is famous and gifted.”

-In fact…his behavior resembles that of a fool.

My second thought was “God help me be teachable…help me love critique.”

I’ve told the story of Paul Comegys many times…but it bears repeating today.

I first met Paul, who went to be with the Lord several years ago, in 1986.

He was a large, loud man…he took over a room in every way possible.

I learned to try and avoid him…which was hard to do…He lacked situational awareness in conversations…and I sometimes didn’t want to deal with him.

After a number of months of avoiding Paul…but also realizing he was a really good person…my brother, also Paul, and I took him to dinner.

I didn’t know Paul Comegys well…so I didn’t know how he would respond to critique.

As we sat across the table at Pizza Hut, I told Paul, “You intimidate people. I think you love people but your approach makes them want to run. You have to change if you want to have impact.”

He sat quietly for a moment…looking intently into my face…then tears came and he said, “Finally.”

The “finally” turned out to be…finally someone who will tell me the truth, who will help me change.

We became brothers, the closest of friends.

“Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.”

Next week we will address getting counsel in decisions and we will bring this month to a conclusion.

Today…finish with five applications for learning to love criticism

  1. White Wall/Black Wall: Trust your friends when you need them the most

White Wall/Black Wall is a sort of parable (a mental hook) for listening to others and trusting them when you most need to.

Idea is this: If I am convinced the wall is white and my trusted friends say it is black…will I trust myself or them?

This is not absolute…but it is a powerful way to move through life in connected community.

*In his decades of research (for which he won the Nobel Prize) Economist and Psychologist Daniel Kahnenan (connaman) demonstrates in fascinating and convincing fashion that we are much better at seeing errors in thinking in others than we are in ourselves.

Yet…we tend to trust ourselves, even when we are operating largely out of emotions/habits…not facts.

“Not me, Terry, I approach decisions logically.”

Yeah, ok…point proven…you trust yourself much more than is warranted.

Fortunately, we can build relationships and learn to trust others…and make better decisions

I have seen people make terrible choices because they refused to trust the wise people around them.

I have never seen the reverse to be true.

Often, we want accountability until we really need it.

When we really need to hear correction…critique of our beliefs, attitudes, or choices…we often don’t want to hear it.

When we are emotionally connected to a decision…to believe, feel or do something….our emotions, our desires…make can make us unwilling to hear important correction.

Paul Comegys went through a terrible time in his life…he had been rejected as a child so when his marriage ended…it put him in terrible place emotionally…he considered ending his own life.

He would come over and just sit on our couch for hours…we would just let him sit there and go about our business.

Paul and I had long before decided to listen and trust each other (and others in our band of brothers) especially when we didn’t want to trust.

On this day he was not thinking clearly…his mind clouded by sorrow and he told me a decision he was considering.

I simply said… “Well, Paul…”

He interrupted… “Okay, I won’t do it…”

He knew his thinking was off…and he was ready to respond to a friend who was not in the storm of emotion…even before he heard what I was going to say

Which brings us to the second application.

  1. Fight, Flight, Freeze: Be more than your chemicals

Fight, Flight is an active defense response where you physical fight or flee from a perceived danger

Freeze is fight or flight on hold…you prepare to protect yourself, ready yourself for your next move.

Fight, flight, freeze is not a conscious decision…we can’t control it in that moment.

Your body very quickly releases adrenaline and cortisol into your blood…these chemicals can affect your heart rate, lungs, eyes, ears, your blood thickens, your skin produces sweat or gets colder…pain perception can be temporarily reduced.

This is all triggered by our brain’s response to fear.

We condition ourselves through experience to fear what we perceive of as a threat…it’s how God made our bodies.

When we have trained ourselves rightly or wrongly to perceive of a certain thing as a threat…when faced with that thing…our brain thinks we are in danger and triggers a physical response.

What does all this have to do with learning to love criticism…becoming wise?

Well…we are spiritual/physical hybrids…we live in bodies…earth suits.

God has designed them to work certain ways.

Without getting too far in the weeds on this let me just make a couple of points to think about.

  1. Perhaps for good reason (a terrible experience in your past) you have learned to see all criticism as a threat…a danger…but it is not.
  2. Now when someone offers criticism your autonomic system responds with “fight, flight, freeze”…you perceive of it as a threat.
  3. Realize this is the case…allow your body to respond but realize there is no real threat here…begin to retrain your body/brain to respond differently.
  4. Once the chemicals have run their course…go back and evaluate the critique…admit your response was a reaction…engage the actual content of what was being offered.
  5. If you are the one offering criticism…it’s important that you recognize if your words are flooding someone…if so…stop…give them some space.

It doesn’t mean what you are saying is wrong…but if they are being flooded with chemicals…then you are being helpful in that moment.

More on not being a Jerk in a minute…but if you are offering someone loving criticism…then it is important to recognize that their initial response may not be great…and for you to not take this personally.

Give them some space and some grace…but it doesn’t mean you were wrong to offer the critique.

And just because you became flooded…doesn’t mean they were wrong in what they said, or that they were a jerk for saying it.

But…that being said…

  1. Don’t be a jerk about this

**If you love to give criticism…please don’t.

If you love people…and people love you…they are more likely to hear your critique as love.

If you do love people…don’t hold back from offering criticism out of self-protection or fear of “hurting someone’s feelings.”

People who are genuinely and actively concerned with hurting people through their words…are unlikely to do so.

Again, if the person is foolish…they may become angry…but it is probably neither loving or wise to offer advice to an angry fool.

But as to how to NOT BE A JERK in this…Jesus offers some humorous and memorable advice in his famous sermon.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5

This was intended to bring a chuckle…then “wait a minute…is he is talking about me?”

Form a mental image…of a person with a two-by-four protruding from his eye…bending over trying to remove a speck of dust from a friends eye.

“No, that’s not gonna work.”

So, the idea here…the wise, loving, self-aware person…the person who realizes they are not perfect, the person who knows they have their own mess…

Is best positioned to offer help to others that will be received as help not judgment.

*This is an illustration…don’t over apply it.

The idea is not that you have to be perfect, sin-free, “speck-free”…to offer critique…but you do need to be humble, self-aware, to do so effectively.

So, to avoid being a jerk…stay connected be humble…don’t be arrogant, superior.

Remember that your relationship to your brothers and sisters is a community of people committed to helping one another grow in Christlikeness.

Don’t demand others heed your advice…then you have made it about you.

Be a “tellsman” not a “salesman”…give critique with an open hand…not a fist.

Which brings us to 4th application.

  1. Build Trust “left of the bang”

*Remember the “bang” concept?

Let’s call a situation where someone really needs critique, or counsel a “bang”…even though it may not involve trauma or trouble…it may be opportunity.

But at any rate…it is a big event…and resiliency preparation left of that bang in terms of the relationship piece is…to have built at least several trust relationships with wise people.

The point is…when you have a big decision it is too late to build long-term trust if you have not already done so.

You can ask for advice…but if they don’t have a track record with you…it’s just not going to be the same…they won’t know you enough about you to offer the best counsel possible.

If they are not a jerk…they won’t just walk up without relationship and throw out some critic….if they are a jerk…you won’t receive it anyway.

We need to build trust relationships…how?

Time and intentionality.

We are busy or we are introverted or we are self-protective or proud…or we are all four.

So, we have to “mean to do this”… “We have to mean for it to happen”…or it won’t just happen.

“I’ve been around for years and don’t have close friends.”

Time without intention is not enough…you have to decide to show up and keep deciding to show up and engage over time.

“It ought to be easier to connect deeply…this is church.”

No…it really shouldn’t be easier…it’s too important, too powerful…to ever be easy.

It is possible and not beyond the reach of anyone willing to be intentional over time.

There are other factors….like being open, being humble, and the like…but the point I want to make today is…intention over time.

Last point: How we have organized/organically to help make this possible.

Small groups: I’m telling you about them, I’m not selling them to you.

  1. Small groups are ORGANIZED/ORGANIC opportunities to connect with people in community…to know and be known

They are organized…we have specific qualifications and processes…for selecting and training leaders…and how we operate in groups.

We have determined what we believe are biblical and wise and effective ways of doing group life.

But they are also organic…they are highly relational…they work when we do the work of relationships.

They are not magic…they do work in they ways that they are intended to work.

They will give back to you in proportion to what you are willing to give out to them.

They are not designed to be deep intellectual times of study…they are focused on

-information

-Application

– In community…with the goal of transformation

Out of small groups come opportunities for one-to-one mentoring and other kinds of “give and take” relationships.

If you want more precise and detailed information…theological training…we have classes, we can recommend books and you can even pay a lot of money and take courses through seminary.

But we are after change…transformation.

So, without application in community…the information won’t change your life in positive ways.

So we try to maintain this balance…some content (Bible truth), some personal interaction, with the goal of becoming more like Jesus.

*GROUPS ARE STARTING BACK, SOME ARE ONGOING…SOME NEW ONES ARE STARTING UP.

*If you are not in one…consider getting in, or back in.

*If you want to video in…some groups are doing that…others aren’t…we can help you find out.

It won’t be convenient…it won’t be easy to connect deeply with people (for most people at least).

But it will be an opportunity to grow wise and to have battle buddies who can stand by you in times when you need them and they need you.

Want help connecting:

Web, Jim, Brenda

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